This month one of Stonewall Democrat's favorite member stopped by to help us clear up the post election mess that was hanging about the office. While she was digging out old stonewall treasures and battling with dust bunnies, Juliana Illari shared some of the information below. She continues to inspire the National Staff with her insight, wisdom, and constant POSITIVE determination that we can all achieve equality in our lifetime. We're happy to introduce you all to Juliana through our Member Highlight for the month of December.
Name: Juliana Illari
NSD: Which Stonewall Affiliate are you a member of?
JI: Atlanta Georgia and I've been a Board member since 2005.
NSD: What's the reason you joined Stonewall Democrats, especially in Atlanta?
JI: I was asked to join the Board when Kyle Bailey restarted/reinvigorated the Atlanta chapter at the end of 2004. I was honored to be asked, and looked forward to serving with a fabulous group of hard working LBGT advocates in the Atlanta Metro area. You can't do this work alone, my friends in this organization are my inspiration.
NSD: Since you've been a member for a few years, what is a campaign highlight for you as a Stonewall Democrats member?
JI: There have been too many to name, each election cycle has it's highlights. But if pressed, in 2009 we were heavily involved in electing Mayor Kasim Reed. If you followed the race, it went to a run off and the LBGT vote was critical. This past year when Atlanta celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Pride, it was wonderful to see the Mayor walking along side our community with his newly appointed Chief of Police (as far as we know, no Police Chief had ever marched in the parade). At the end of the parade the Mayor came over to say hello to me and three of our board members and thank us again. That was pretty exciting. However, working in politics in such a deeply red state has serious challenges, but I've been constantly inspired by our communities ability to pick our self up, dust our self off and keep moving forward.
NSD: Juliana, who would you consider your favorite Democrat?
JI: Is this a trick question? I take a great deal of inspiration from Georgia Congressman John Lewis (pictured here standing on the far right with Martin Luther King, Jr during the Montgomery boycott). A man who is, in my opinion, a national treasure. He's a civil and human rights legend and who has, since the 60's been a true believer in building a fully inclusive Beloved Community. Humor me by reading this quick story: In the spring of 2006( before the House flipped) while lobbying for Hate Crimes, ENDA with four GA Transgender citizens ( 3 who had never lobbied before, ever, anywhere.) We'd had a long day of meetings with GA GOP staff who barely gave us the time of day. In one case, even had a staffer be openly hostile. Tired, discouraged and worn down we arrived at the last meeting of the day, with Rep. Lewis. I think he knew exactly what had happened to us and greeted us warmly with a hug and thanked us for coming to DC to lobby. As you can imagine this made all the difference in the world for my budding activists. Congressman Lewis is one of our parties original allies. But I'd like to give a quick shout out this past election cycle, with all that was atstake, to Patrick Murphy from PA.
NSD: What did you think was at stake in this previous election (midterm election of 2010)?
JI: Not to be too dramatic about it; but the very soul of this country. In 2008, I had hope that we'd turned an important corner as a nation by electing President Obama. On election night I heard, for the first time, a President-elect actually use LBGT inclusive language in his speech. Little did I know that around that corner on Jan 21st would be a brick wall of opposition to our most basic and fundamental rights. And it still continues to rush over this country.
I've watched the Constitution be used like a dishrag, used by people dressed in silly costumes with badly spelled signs all with a thinly veiled hatred toward anyone not like "them". The very idea this is at all tolerated and pandered to disturbs me.
I know it's had a serious chilling effect on good folks who we'd like to see run for office, those who would represent our community in the fight for equal rights both locally and nationally. I'm shocked this is continuously accepted by voters. Candidates who appear completely ignorant about how the government is structured and functions.
I know I've watched more CSPAN in one week than some of the characters running for office ever have. Some may even get elected by a mob of voters with an active sneering hatred for government. How on earth will they be able to do a job they're clearly not suited or qualified for?
That's what keeps me up at night, but then I'll log onto email, Facebook and Twitter the next morning and see postings from Stonewall Affiliates all around the county, talk to a great community volunteer, or get an invite to an event that sounds really fun and important from a candidate we've endorsed and all that positive energy gives me strength to keep doing the work.
I'm honored to be asked to share my story, I doubt my story is really all that different from yours. I know our members get up every day, suit up for the challenge, find friends and allies along the way and boldly take on all those tasks on our to-do lists. Thank you to all our stonewall members, friends, and allies across the country for all you are doing.
Juliana, Thanks for all you do to bring equality to Georgia and throughout the Country!